Sen. Mike Lee says toxic U.S. politics will ultimately lead to widespread violence unless the country returns power to the states

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mike Lee speaks at a Utah public lands forum hosted by the Sutherland Institute, June 29, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Lee has talked to the White House about a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, he said Friday. But Lee wouldn't say whether his name is among the potential front-runners.

The country’s strident “good vs. evil” style of national politics has become so toxic that it is sure to lead to violence on a large scale unless it embraces federalism, warns Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

The continuous political war that holds out winner-take-all as the ultimate prize in a deeply divided nation has created “a sort of constitutional dirty bomb that threatens the foundations of our republic,” the conservative politician said to a warmly receptive Federalist Society convention audience on Thursday.

A constitutional scholar who was swept into office by the tea party in 2010, Lee said political rhetoric and rancor has reached such a fever pitch that it’s “driving our politics toward violence. … Ultimately, this will come down to a binary choice: federalism or violence.”

The progressive Alliance for a Better Utah issued a statement Friday condemning the speech as unnecessarily raising the specter of political violence.

“Every time political leaders discuss violence as a possibility, it increases the likelihood that a maniacal follower of theirs might consider that an endorsement of violence,” Chase Thomas, the alliance’s executive director, said. “Baseless fearmongering has no place within our communities, and is inexcusable coming from our elected officials."

Lee’s theory is that the current national politics that has the majority party in Washington — Republican or Democrat — forcing its will on the 49 percent of the country that disagrees is unsustainable. Allowing states to reclaim power as was intended by the Founding Fathers, he argued, will relieve the pressure and animosity that has developed and restore a more human and responsive politics.

“Let Vermont be Vermont and Utah be Utah,” Lee said, adding that there’s a simple remedy for a resident who disagrees with his or her state’s policy choices: “you can move.” (He later noted that Vermont’s desire for a single-payer health care system is a reason he will never live there.)

Lee then presented a laundry list of the responsibilities he said are the obvious ones that should be returned to the states. These include the interstate-highway system, public education, all activities of the Department of Commerce, housing policy and workforce regulation and “the huge glut of federally owned land and real estate.”

By Washington, D.C. clearing its decks of these “smaller issues,” he said, the federal government can start focusing on the responsibilities that properly belong to it: national security, immigration, trade, senior entitlements and debt.

“The good news is that thanks to President Donald Trump and the Republican Senate majority, we have a Supreme Court that should be ready to do its part on this project,” Lee said to applause.

Thomas, of the progressive alliance, countered, “We don’t need grim predictions from Lee that suggest the only way to avoid further violence is by ending programs that have helped millions of people and contributed to the strength and greatness of our country.”

Instead, the nation needs leaders "with a bold vision of unity to carry us through these challenges,” he said.